Iran's twin quakes kill hundreds, flatten mud-brick villages
Nobody was killed or hurt in the nearby city of Tabriz, however, thanks to more substantial construction materials than in the countryside.
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"We saw some villages that were truly destroyed," said Sadati, the photographer who was documenting the quake aftermath. "One good thing was that the earthquake happened during the day, so many people were not in their homes. If it had happened at night the casualties would have been far worse."Skip to next paragraph
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Around 300 dead
Close to 300 people were believed to be dead, said Reza Sadighi, Ahar's local governor, Fars news agency said. Shaji'i told ISNA that 2,600 people are believed to be injured.
Nearly 100 ambulances and 1,100 Red Crescent workers were deployed, Shaji'i said, along with 44,000 food packages and 5,600 tents for shelter. The relief agency had enough supplies and most residents in the area had access to clean water but Shaji'i asked residents to donate cash to the relief effort.
Officials in Tehran extended condolences to the victims and declared two days of mourning to be held in the province, ISNA reported.
About 16,000 people in the quake-hit area have been given emergency shelter, Red Crescent official Mahmoud Mozafar told Mehr news agency.
Iranian lawmaker Mohammad Hassan-Nejad warned that if relief efforts did not speed up, the death toll would swiftly rise.
"Relief groups have still not reached many villages, because in normal conditions some of these villages are several hours away," he told ISNA. "Currently the roads are closed and the only way to reach these villages is by air."
Solid construction in Tabriz
Photographs posted on Iranian news websites showed numerous bodies, including children, lying on the floor of a white-tiled morgue in Ahar and medical staff treating the injured in the open air as dusk fell on Saturday. Other images showed rescue workers digging people out of rubble - some alive, many dead.
Iran is crisscrossed by major fault lines and has suffered several devastating earthquakes in recent years, including a 6.6 magnitude quake in 2003 that reduced the historic southeastern city of Bam to dust and killed about 31,000 people.
Saturday's quakes struck in East Azerbaijan province, a mountainous region that neighbours Azerbaijan and Armenia to the north. Buildings in Tabriz, the provincial capital, are substantially built and ISNA reported nobody in the city had been killed or hurt.
Homes and business premises in Iranian villages, however, are often made of concrete blocks or mud brick that can crumble and collapse in a strong quake.
Water, electricity, and phone lines in the area of Varzaghan are all down, further hindering rescue efforts, Iran's English-language Press TV reported.
Tabriz residents left their homes and crowded the streets following the two quakes, those in the city said. "Everyone was scared last night," a resident said by telephone. "They set up tents and were sleeping in the streets and in parks."
Pope Benedict XVI asked Christians to pray for the victims of the quakes.